Over the next decade or more, Main Line Health is proposing to build an ambitious mix of medical offices, senior housing, apartments, condos, and retail as well as a small hotel on the 73-acre St. Charles Borromeo Seminary campus in Wynnewood, health system officials said Monday.
“We want the site to have a real emphasis on wellness” for Lower Merion residents, Lankenau patients, their families, and hospital employees, said JoAnn Magnatta, a Main Line senior vice president who oversees development for the owner of Lankenau Medical Center, across Lancaster Avenue from the seminary.
Main Line said it did not yet have an estimate of the project’s total cost, which it would share with development partners.
The buildings there now must remain, under a local historic designation, but canon law and the sale agreement require seminary officials to remove all religious images and sacred objects and artifacts from the campus. That includes statues and even inscriptions on St. Martin Chapel, the seminary’s main church, and other buildings, according to Main Line.
But residents should not expect a quick transformation of the historic site at the intersection of City and Lancaster Avenues. The seminary, which is part of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, this year enrolled 149 students, and will keep operating there until the spring of 2024. Officials said they are working with a 10- to 12-year timeline for the project.
Main Line and its development partner, Hines, have been meeting with township commissioners and community members — who have been monitoring potential developments at the seminary since 2013 — to update them on the proposal, but haven’t started the zoning process yet.
“Having seen preliminary plans, we just want to assess the impacts to the community of these extensive plans that Main Line Health has proposed, so there’s, I’d say, a digestion period at this point,” said Tom McConnell, president of the Coalition for Neighborhood Character and Quality.
Main Line and Hines have created a website, www.stcharlesproject.com, where neighbors can sign up for updates.
A key part of the proposal is to provide some space for Lankenau.
“We’re at capacity right now at Lankenau given what’s happened in the market with the closure of some of the hospitals and our continued growth,” the hospital’s president Phil Robinson said. “This affords us the opportunity to relocate things that don’t have to be right in the hospital.”
The St. Charles proposal calls for 600,000 square feet of medical office buildings, with a pedestrian bridge across Lancaster Avenue to the Lankenau campus. Robinson suggested that outpatient offices for specialties such as neurology and geriatrics could move to the new campus, where they would be near the senior living area in the back part of the campus, farthest away from bustling City Avenue.
The proposal for senior living would create 205 units, a mix of independent-living apartments and townhouses, assisted living, and accommodations for individuals with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
The proposal also includes the construction and sale of 175 to 190 condominium in the main college building, next to St. Martin Chapel. The main college building shows signs of neglect, with gray paint peeling off many of the wooden window frames on its Lancaster Avenue side.
Next to St. Martin, the plan calls for the construction of a boutique hotel in the center of the property.
What the chapel itself will be used for hasn’t been decided, said Brandon Segal, managing director in the Philadelphia office of Hines. While giving an Inquirer reporter a tour of the property, Segal got excited showing off courtyards and other special spaces that he thinks residents will enjoy.
Apartment buildings with more than 600 units in all would be arrayed along Lancaster Avenue, which is 75 feet lower than the upper part of the campus along Wynnewood Road. That means, Segal said, that the apartment buildings would cause minimal disruptions to the views of Wynnewood Road residents who can currently see down to Lancaster Avenue.
Almost all parking is expected to be underneath the buildings, officials said.
Long road to seminary’s future
The process of finding a new use for the St. Charles Borromeo campus started in 2013, when the seminary decided to reduce its footprint from the 75 acres it occupied for generations in Lower Merion. The seminary was founded in 1832 and moved to that location in 1871.
The diocese’s initial plan was to vacate the 1928 college building and consolidate on the back end of the campus. The strategy was to sell or lease 45 acres for development and keep 30 acres for the seminary, using money from land sales for renovations.
That plan, with a price tag of $50 million for the renovations, was too costly, Bishop Timothy C. Senior, the seminary’s rector said last year during a township meeting on the seminary’s current plan. The seminary now intends to move to a portion of Gwynedd Mercy University’s campus, in Lower Gwynedd Township.
As the seminary was trying to figure out its future, litigation slowed the sale of the site.
A competing developer of senior living facilities, who had been pursing the development of the seminary property in a possible partnership with Main Line, sued the hospital system and the seminary in 2016 to block a sale to Main Line, alleging that the system and the seminary had unfairly cut him out of the deal.
That lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed amount in October 2017, clearing the way for Main Line to buy the site for $43.5 million in 2019. Main Line also owns Bryn Mawr, Paoli, and Riddle Hospitals.